Traditional Family

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Family Structure and Children’s Well-Being
John Pass
Western Governors University---Washington

Some have argued that the disparities in life outcomes are primarily determined by characteristics of the family. Family structure is a fundamental characteristic of the family. This fundamental characteristic has significant and sustaining effects on children. The traditional family structure can be defined as a family that has children living with both biological and married parents. The trend for family structure is moving away from the traditional family to various other types of family structures. Today, children are increasingly growing up in single-parent, step, and grandparents-only families. Recently, there has been considerable research examining whether correlations exist between family structure and children’s well-being. Research suggests that the loss of traditional family structure negatively affects children’s well-being in academic achievement outcomes, overall physical and mental health, and increases the likelihood of at-risk behaviors.

There are negative educational consequences for children that grow up in nontraditional family structures. A great deal of research on the correlation between family structure and academic achievement has results that are similar. According to Sun and Li, “most previous studies have concurred that growing up in various alternative family structures has negative educational consequences (2011, p.542). Also, data from previous studies showed that the number of transitions, like divorce, in family structure during a child’s life lowered that child’s test scores. This can be accounted for by associating family instability with lower

academic achievement. In the study by Sun and Li, which compared children’s academic performance among six types of family structures, it showed that children in families with two biological parents made greater progress than those from the five other types of family structure (2011, p. 541). There might be other factors that contribute to these results. One area that researchers have found a causal link was in psychological support (Ginther & Pollak, 2002). It was suggested that the children in two biological parent families received more support than in other types of family structure. This might be a contributing factor for better outcomes. However, the main link is still family structure. Research shows that children who grow up in single parent families and children with stepparents have lower educational attainment than those who grow up with both biological parents (Ginther & Pollak, 2002). Data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study shows that there are disparities in outcomes between different family structures. Compared to children in traditional family structure, children in single-mother or cohabitating families have poorer educational outcomes (Walfogal, & Craigie, & Brooks-Gunn, 2010). Besides affecting educational outcomes, family structure can also affect the well-being of children’s health.

Children living in a family structure type that does not have both biological parents tend to have poorer physical and mental health. Results from a study done by Bramlett and Blumberg in 2007 suggests that family structure does affect children’s well-being and that children living with

two biological parents had better physical health (2007, p. 549). There is a great deal of research on the outcomes for academic achievement, mental health, and behavioral problems in the different family structures. There is not as much research on the outcomes of physical health (Bramlett & Blumberg, 2007). This study by Bramlett and Blumberg examines the physical health indicators and the correlation with family structure. Data from the 2003 National Survey of Children’s Health made available to the researchers a larger sampling of children which allowed the authors...
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